Anyone who is doubt about the global resurgence of violence has only to look back over the acts of terrorism that have become so commonplace in the recent past
By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
In 2011 Steven Pinker, a renowned psychologist and author at Harvard University, published a book titled ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’. At over 800 pages, it is a comprehensive and quasi-encyclopaedic survey of all kinds of violence from as far back in history as is possible from available records and data. He comes to the conclusion that over the millennia humankind has become progressively less violent. As the reviewer Tim Radford wrote in his review in The Guardian in 2012, I too admit that I have yet to read the book completely, but would agree with his final line: ‘I don’t know if he’s right, but I do think this book is a winner.’
Of that there can be no doubt. Pinker backs up his thesis with rich scholarship from several disciplines, and strengthens his arguments with a wealth of statistical data and graphs to show the trends. As the blurb on the inside front cover puts it, ‘violence within and between societies – both murder and warfare – really has declined from prehistory to today. We are much less likely to die at someone’s else hands than ever before. The reason is that contrary to the Hobbesian notion that life is ‘nasty, brutish and short,’ Pinker believes that ‘modernity and its cultural institutions are actually making us better people,’ showing how ‘life has changed around the world…not simply through the huge benefits of organized government, but also because of the extraordinary power of progressive ideas.’
I would have loved to be as optimistic as Pinker, but my view is that as in medicine, so too in society at large: just one unnecessary death is one too many. And so, irrespective of the positive trends that the book presents, the fact is that despite all the seeming progress, the penetration of progressive ideas in several countries is either absent or impossible in some mindsets that are hell bent on hating or eliminating the other. Why, even in the progressive societies held up as examples to emulate, things are no longer hunky-dory, especially in the last three decades or so, and more so after 9/11.
No later than yesterday, two articles illustrate the point. One is by James Weinberg, of the University of Sheffield, with the title ‘David Amess killing: threats of violence and harassment have become commonplace for politicians’, and sub-headlined ‘Politics has become a low-trust, high-blame environment that has left public servants under near constant threat of attack,’ which gives a foretaste of the alarming contents in the article that is a must read to understand what is happening. In a country that, the media and collusions at high level helping, chose to ignore the decades of grooming gangs that devastated the lives of tens of thousands of young White and Sikh girls (some as young as 10 years old), should it be a surprise that violence is now an endemic reality?
The other is in The Independent, which writes that ‘Ministers have failed to act on any of the official recommendations for tackling the rise of extremism in Britain, it has emerged. Over three years, the Commission for Countering Extremism – set up by Theresa May in the wake of the Manchester Arena attack – has repeatedly warned more had to be done to tackle the evolving threats facing the UK, including closing legal loopholes that allowed those who inspired terrorists to go free. But ministers have not formally responded to any of the reports released by the body since 2019, and none of the suggested measures have been put in place, despite warnings that security threats would worsen until the government stepped up its response. It comes as counterterror police investigate the murder of Conservative MP Sir David Amess, who was stabbed to death while holding a constituency surgery inside a church on Friday.’
Anyone who is doubt about the global resurgence of violence has only to look back over the acts of terrorism that have become so commonplace in the recent past, of the civilian violence originating from the ‘institutional racism’ that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement and the continuing violence against minorities that have been witnessed all around, from the Yazidis in Iraq to the Christians in Syria, the Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan where recently attacks on mosques belonging to a different sect have resulted in dozens of deaths of innocents.
As if these were not enough, there have been targeted attacks on non-Kashmiri civilians in Kashmir, and a spate of mob attacks in Bangla Desh on temples and pandals where Durga Puja was being held, with the loss of lives and dozens of injured across 22 districts according to information to date. The Prime Minister of Bangla Desh Sheik Hasina has condemned these attacks and given assurance that they will not be tolerated and the perpetrators will be punished. Nevertheless, as at Sunday last, attacks were going on, including on an Iskcon temple whose priests have been assassinated.
These spates of attacks have sent out a cry for initiating an ‘All Lives Matter’ if not ‘Hindu Lives Matter’ movement to bring to the attention of an impassive UN the plight of minorities. It will be recalled that Kashmir saw an ethnic cleansing of its minority Pandit population in a single night in April 1990, when nearly 400,000 of them fled when the call of ‘Convert, Leave or Die’ was launched. This holocaust has been described in great detail by a victim of this violence, R. Pandita, in his book Our Moon Has Blood Clots which makes for chilling and tearful reading. That human beings can descend to such levels of inhumanity is unbelievable. As doctors, we see so much of suffering from disease that we simply cannot imagine that there should be more caused by acts of deliberate violence by humans against each other.
The current situation in Kashmir has been analysed by Tushar Gupta in an article in Swarajya Magazine dated October 12, with the Snapshot, ‘It is the Kashmir valley’s clear and apparent transition towards a pro-India normal that the terrorists seek to disrupt.’ He points out that ‘the valley today is in a transition from religious fanaticism to economic nationalism.’
This shift is highlighted in an article in ‘Greater Kashmir’ of August 04, 2021 under the title ‘The dawn of a new beginning for J & K’ by Emaad Makhdoomi. He writes about the nearly 7000 development projects that were launched and initiated during the years of 2015 to 2019which ‘were stalled and halted after the initial investments were made,’ but that now been completed. The latest news on the Kashmir front according to a TV channel is that the UAE is planning an investment of about Indian Rs 28000 Crore (1 crore = 10 million), that is nearly USD 4 bn there.
Gupta continues that it is ‘the growing pro-India sentiment since 2016-17 that is rattling the stakeholders of the conflict economy.’ He concludes that ‘a long cold brutal winter awaits Kashmir, threatening to disrupt the transition towards economic nationalism and a growing pro-India sentiment.’
‘These random acts of violence would be more about deterring the pro-India voices, Hindu or Muslim, and ensuring a sense of normalcy never prevails. For the (armed) forces, the challenge would be to find the various arms of the terror support network and neutralise them,’ all the more so because ‘Today, an average Kashmiri is distracted more by the economy than the politics, thanks to the pandemic, and the likes of ‘The Resistance Front’ would want the attention to move back to politics. In the larger scheme of things, these killings are instrumental in brewing the conflict economy.’
It is now ten years since Pinker’s book, and a second edition is perhaps due, to take account of the undoubted levels of man-made violence that have been plaguing certain segments of humankind since then.
* Published in print edition on 19 October 2021
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